On Wednesday, October 19th, 2016, famed comedy director, Paul Feig, came to the New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus to celebrate the fifth anniversary of his beloved film Bridesmaids. Feig’s prolific film and television directing credits include Spy, Ghostbusters (2016), The Heat, The Office, Nurse Jackie, Freaks and Geeks, and Arrested Development. NYFA’s Director of Industry Lecture Series and successful Hollywood producer, Tova Laiter (Varsity Blues, Glory) hosted the event.
Feig began the conversation by talking about his relationship with Judd Apatow. As the saying goes, “it’s not what you know it’s who you know.” A lot of Mr. Feig’s career has been closely tied with Apatow’s career. “I’ve known Judd since he was seventeen. If he produced something, I’d act in it.” When Feig made a short film, Apatow liked it so much he helped him to get Freaks and Geeks green-lit. And in 2007, Apatow once again called Feig, this time for a table read of an untitled female comedy about a wedding.
Feig said of that first table read, “I remember thinking ‘my gosh this is such a great vehicle for a bunch of funny women.’ Now, of course, this was the early days and the script needed a lot of work so I gave a bunch of notes. I called Judd (several months later) and asked him what happened. He said it was dead, so that was the end of that.”
Three years later Feig got a call from his agent saying they were trying to revive the “bride movie.” The first name Feig thought of was Kristen Wiig. He had cast her in her first film role, “Unaccompanied Minors,” a few years before and “instantly fell in love with her.”
When he started looking at how he was going to approach filming the script he used a standup comedy trick; write a bunch of jokes and then test them on audiences. The jokes with the best laughs stay in the movies, everything else is left on the cutting room floor. “I like doing action stuff. How can I make it physical and suspenseful so you’re scared and screaming at the same time? To get that kind of reaction out of the audience is a good time,” Feig said.
One student asked, “When it comes to directing is there a difference between working with stand-up comedians as apposed to straight actors?” Feig responded, “Most of the funniest people I work with are really funny. If they’re going all out I usually tell them to pull back. [Directing] it’s really kind of guiding them. That safe environment is really important. Actors need to feel they can make mistakes. Let them try everything and don’t ever be punitive with them.”
New York Film Academy would like to thank Paul Feig for taking the time come speak to our students. Ghostbusters is now available on DVD, and look out for his next film Song of Back and Neck coming out in 2017.